This morning, the Mets re-signed David Wright to a seven year, $122 million contract extension that seems to be a good price for the team, and right about what we expected he would get if the two sides wanted to reach an agreement. Wright is probably going to be worth the contract on his own; the real argument has been about whether or not the Mets should be the one giving it to him.
I touched on this briefly last week in my article about the perils of losing on purpose, but I don’t think the Mets are the kind of team that need to be tearing down the talent in place and going for a youth movement. While the Mets have had four straight losing seasons, I just don’t see a lot of evidence that the team can’t win in the near future. When I look at this team and what they have in place, I just don’t see a roster that is really all that far away from being a viable contender.
To start, they haven’t exactly been awful as of late. They’ve won 230 games over the last three years, finishing in the 74-79 win range each year. Last year, they were outscored by 59 runs. The year before, they were outscored by 24 runs. The year before that, they outscored their opponents by four runs. This is just not a team that has been miserably bad. They’ve wasted a lot of money, certainly, but they’ve been a slightly below average team, not a doormat.
Even last year, they were just a little worse than average, and that was true pretty much across the board. Their non-pitchers posted a wRC+ of 98, ranking #16th in baseball in park adjusted offense. Their 107 ERA- shows that the run prevention was a little worse than average, but the pitching was actually okay (104 FIP-), and they were just let down by a poor defensive unit. Upgrading a team’s defense is one of the cheaper and easier things to do in a given winter. For the Mets, it simply starts by not using Lucas Duda in the outfield anymore.
Simply reallocating the playing time that went to Duda and Jason Bay to one competent Major League outfielder could be a +3 or +4 win swing. That’s not asking for the Mets to find a star – that’s just replacing a black hole with a guy who can run around the outfield and not embarrass himself at the plate too badly. That’s finding next year’s Gregor Blanco. This doesn’t require a huge investment or some long term prospect development. It just requires finding a slightly below average player who wants a shot at playing everyday.
That’s one of the encouraging things about this Mets roster. The problem isn’t a lack of a championship core, but instead, the lack of reasonably acceptable role players and roster filler. Most teams don’t have two guys as good as David Wright and R.A. Dickey, even with their expected regression in 2013. Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Johan Santana make for a pretty nifty #2-#4 in the rotation, and if Dillon Gee is healthy, he showed enough to be a pretty interesting #5 guy as well. Toss in the potential addition of Zack Wheeler, and the Mets have the makings of a well above average rotation.
With three average-ish infielders around Wright, it’s not like the position players are a total disaster either. The Mets have a pretty substantial holes at catcher and in the outfield, but again, upgrading on holes is a lot easier than trying to add wins over decent-but-unspectacular performers. Just getting a couple of extra league average performers in the outfield would go a long way towards making the Mets respectable once again.
In looking at their overall roster, the Mets are probably still a 75 to 80 win team in terms of true talent level, but they’re a 75 to 80 win team with some obvious places to make improvements. With a couple of solid outfielders and a warm body at catcher, they’re an 80 to 85 win team. Maybe grabbing all three of those guys this winter is impractical, especially while they work to improve their bullpen at the same time. But, over the next 12 months, do we really think that the Mets can’t grab a couple of decent role players?
David Wright is going to be 30, not 40, next year. R.A Dickey is a knuckleballer, so his age is about as irrelevant as any pitcher in the game. These guys are not on the precipice of losing all of their value. They can regress and still be good enough to be the two best players on a winning team. The Mets just need to flank them with fewer embarrassments. And, thankfully, those are the easiest upgrades to make.
Trade Duda to an AL team with a real outfielder to spare. Grab a couple of interesting guys who have been productive in limited roles and could use a full time job to show what they can do. Snag a couple of low cost relievers with some upside. There are five or six fairly easy wins to be added here, simply in replacing the dregs around the roster. And the Mets are five or six wins away from being on the fringes of the playoff race. Add in the huge swings in outcomes that can’t really be predicted based on things like hitting with runners in scoring position or winning one run games, and the idea that the Mets are years away from even dreaming about a 90 win season just doesn’t add up.
They’re not the best team in the NL East, certainly. They’re probably not going to make the playoffs in 2013. But, given the wide variance around both player and team performance and the pieces they have in place after re-signing Wright, this team could easily be a player in 2014. And, by re-signing Wright, they’ve given themselves a chance to pull an Orioles/A’s upset and move the timetable forward if things break right.
So, I say good for the Mets on not giving up on their short term future. They just aren’t anywhere close to being bad enough to justify punting the next few years while they wait for the farm system to develop new stars to build around. They already have stars to build around. They can win with the ones they have now.